Childhood Not Found: ‘Pee-wee Herman Show’

As a one-time fan of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” I attended his return via a stage version at Club Nokia titled “The Pee-wee Herman Show” with considerable excitement. But the 90-minute production merely left me nostalgic for the TV show — and convinced that was the medium where this comeback probably belongs.

Seeing Herman (a.k.a. Paul Reubens) back in character, surrounded by the trappings of the original “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” caused a warm rush, but the high only lasted about 15 minutes. After that, it was a very long slog — like watching three episodes of the original Saturday-morning series loosely strung together, minus commercial breaks. (To be fair, Variety’s Terry Flores enjoyed the show more than I did).

Nearby patrons did their best to keep the fun and euphoria alive by laughing hysterically at everything — and somebody a few rows back passed a joint around, which doubtless would have helped.

Still, Pee-wee was always the slimmest of conceits — a series that connected with adults as well as children. I remember a CBS executive telling me that in research, kids guessed that Pee-wee’s age was about 12 — a testament to just how convincing Reubens was to them in the role.

The real question is what comes next. The character clearly has a degree of residual equity, but the stage is the wrong venue for it. TV? Maybe, but probably more for the Adult Swim crowd than the moribund children’s market. Another movie? Reubens acknowledged in a Los Angeles Times interview that jump-starting a film project was his underlying goal, but my guess is it would have to be done on a relative shoestring to hedge against legitimate fears that Pee-wee mania might be a mile wide and an inch deep.

That said, as I recently noted in a column, various ’80s artifacts are experiencing a resurgence (“V,” “The A-Team,” Michael Jackson music), so why not Pee-wee?

As for those who consider the whole tone of this post a trifle cynical and negative, I know I am, but what are you?

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